The only occasion in which I previously saw The Danny Kaye Show prior to welcoming gradual telecasts of the series being released to DVD was a clip showcased on CBS: On the Air, the all-star gala stretched over seven nights to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Tiffany Network. Kaye was one of the co-hosts for the Wednesday night edition, and they showed a sequence from his popular variety hour in which he chatted up precocious child star Victoria Meyerink, who would soon enjoy a short career of popularity appearing in films like Elvis Presley’s Speedway (1968) and on such shows as Green Acres and My Three Sons. (My memory is a bit rusty regarding the content in the clip, but I vaguely recall he sang a song to her as well.)
(It would be Victoria’s last gig as an actress, according to the [always reliable] IMDb; since that time she has worked as an award-winning television producer.) I remember the entertainer gulped nervously and ad-libbed about how much she’d grown. (Look, I know that kind of gives off a creepy vibe—but Danny was referencing what he always said to her whenever she appeared on his show as a child.) Kaye’s variety series, which aired over the CBS Television Network from 1963-67 for a total of 120 telecast episodes, has been MIA on home video for many years save for a 1993 video release entitled The Best of Danny Kaye: The Television Years, which spotlighted classic musical moments from the series. It was released to DVD in May of 2012, and later in December of that same year Christmas with Danny Kaye, a single disc with two Yuletide-themed telecasts (one with Nat King Cole and the other with Peggy Lee) broke the log jam: there have since been a number of small collections containing uncut episodes of the variety hour starring the “Everyman of Entertainment.”
Young Meyerink is featured in two of the telecasts, dated January 4 and January 11, 1967. Meyerink’s spot would usually occur near the end of the program; to demonstrate his amazing rapport with audiences, Danny would set aside time at the end of each hour for a “quiet” segment: an informal interaction with the studio audience and viewers, telling jokes and singing songs in an intimate setting that allowed him to take a breath from what was surely a strenuous workout for a man of his age. Kaye was 52 at the time The Danny Kaye Show premiered on CBS-TV…but with his vim and vitality he often seemed twenty years younger.
Danny Kaye: Legends is comprised of six telecasts from the 1963-67 variety series. The first two episodes feature guest stars Lucille Ball (11/04/64) and Imogene Coca (12/09/64)—Lucy did a 1962 TV special with Danny pre-Kaye Show, and Imogene would not only be one of Kaye’s frequent guests she was an old friend from back in the days when the two made two-reel comedies for Educational (she and Danny, along with June Allyson and Barry Sullivan, appear in 1937’s Dime a Dance). These two programs are among my favorites on the set, not only because of Lucy and Imogene but because the black-and-white episodes of Kaye’s show seem to be of a better visual quality than the later color efforts (the series discarded its monochrome origins in the fall of 1965 as part of CBS’ commitment to make buying a color TV worth the effort). Granted, the color technology back then was still in its experimental stage…so live and/or videotaped programs are not without their problems.
|Old Home Week!|
|This sketch could have been a Lucy Show episode!|
|"Little Latin Lupe Lu..."|
…is Thurl “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” Ravenscroft, one-time Sportsman Quartet member and voice of Tony the Tiger (the animated mascot for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes). Always nice to see Thurl, as you might imagine.
|Appearing in a sketch with Danny is the incomparable Harold Gould. Other performers I spotted in skits on both DVDs include Jamie Farr and Henry Beckman.|
In addition, the George Burns show is worth the price of admission to hear George and Danny swap some show business stories (including some hilarious Jack Benny anecdotes) and George sing in his one-of-a-kind fashion (including Red Rose Rag and Ain’t Misbehavin’) with Danny and the show’s Earl Brown Singers.
The Hillcrest Golf Club story Danny tells about Jack Benny is gold, Jerry.
As with Legends, Best of also features six telecasts with guest stars like Harry Belafonte (09/15/65) and Ella Fitzgerald (10/05/66), not to mention Kaye’s premiere telecast from September 25, 1963 (with guests Jackie Cooper and Lovelady Powell)—which opens with a hilarious gag in which the star’s entrance is heralded by trumpets, dancing girls, soldiers, and Egyptian slaves carrying a litter which, when the curtain is pulled back, reveals…
“Wouldn’t this have been a wonderful opening for Danny Kaye?” Jack, the true master of timing, marvels after the perfect pause to milk the laughter. As the procession moves on, we see that the guy bringing up the rear…
|Second banana Harvey Korman and Kaye play astronauts in a "teaser" sketch.|
The sixth telecast on this disc, with guest Liza Minnelli (January 5, 1966; Liza with a “Z” sings For Every Man There’s a Woman and Maybe This Time), also features a fun trio of Kaye, John Gary and Alan Young on Just an Honest Mistake. (Alan and Danny also do a hilarious race car sketch with regular Joyce Van Patten on this last one as well.)
Originally, Kaye’s program was going to air right after the network’s powerhouse Ed Sullivan Show at 9pm Sunday…but the showman said “Pasadena” (heh…Dena) to what was widely considered a “graveyard slot”—NBC’s Bonanza was on the same time, and would finish ranked at #2 by the end of the season before spending the next three seasons at the number-one series in the Nielsens. (Judy Garland’s show was slotted against Bonanza instead…and though her hour had more than its share of problems, having to go up against the Cartwrights certainly didn’t do her series any favors.)
The show also snagged a George Foster Peabody honor as one of the best entertainment programs that year. But stiff competition soon began to gnaw at Danny’s ratings: first, from NBC’s Wednesday Night at the Movies the following season…and the same network’s I Spy after that. When you stop to consider that much of the Danny Kaye fan base was composed of younger viewers who enjoyed him in such films as Hans Christian Andersen (1952) and Merry Andrew (1958), you have to wonder why CBS didn’t consider finding an earlier time slot to beef up Kaye’s standing in the Nielsens. Low ratings and diffident critical support ultimately brought The Danny Kaye Show a cancellation after four seasons. It was a different situation on the other side of the pond; the United Kingdom has enjoyed a long love affair with Danny Kaye (Bob Hope once memorably cracked: “Danny has been practically adopted by the British…I used his dressing room when I was over there…it was a modest affair—just two mirrors and a throne”), and The Danny Kaye Show was imported in time to appear on BBC-2 when that channel began transmissions and was a hit for three seasons.
The Court Jester is a movie comedy masterpiece, and I’m also partial to The Inspector General, Knock on Wood and On the Double—but sometimes a little Kaye goes a long way (I think the best adjective to describe his radio show is “precious”). Watching these telecasts has brought me a new appreciation for Danny, and I hope MVD Visual and Kaye’s estate continues to make these accessible for home video collectors. For you see—I cannot deny the ferocity of the man’s talent; he was a master entertainer in addition to being a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, an accomplished chef, a licensed pilot, a baseball enthusiast (he was at one time a part-owner of the Seattle Mariners and possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of America’s greatest pastime) and a honorary member of both the American College of Surgeons and the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Life is a great big canvas,” he would remark in later years, “throw all the paint you can at it.” With that in mind, I cannot recommend highly enough acquiring the DVD sets Legends: Danny Kaye and The Best of the Danny Kaye Show for your own personal art gallery.